Earlier today my son made his fall AA Little League debut here in Orange County.
The boy’s name is Emmett. He’s 8, and loves baseball. He doesn’t love love love love baseball, as some kids do, but he really seems to get a kick out of the strategy, the intricacies, the little details. Covering first when you’re pitching and the first baseman chases a grounder. The grip of a changeup. Things like that.
Best of all, he loves standing in the cul-de-sac with his old man and throwing a ball around. We do it a lot, and it’s always one of my joys. First, because it’s together time. Second, because it’s laid-back together time. Third, because he’s one of the few people on this planet who listens to me. Fourth—and my personal favorite—when a child practices and practices something, you generally see the improvement. And it can be ridiculously inspiring.
Back in New York, Emmett was a pretty iffy ballplayer. But since arriving here, he’s really dedicated a part of himself to the game. He takes a special pride in defense, so I give him grounder after grounder after grounder. Pop flies, too. The best part, though, comes when he and I mess around with pitching. The ritual goes something like this: A. We find a piece of paper or metal; B. We place it on the ground; C. I squat behind it; D. Emmett walks far enough away to simulate the mound-to-home plate distance; E. He pitches to me.
But he doesn’t merely pitch to me. We mess around. I squat to the left side of the plate and see if he can hit the mitt. Then the right. He’s been working on a knuckler that doesn’t knuckle, but is starting to do something funky and cool. He has a changeup that doesn’t quite work, but he likes tinkering with. And then we have our own invented pitch (Gyroball: 15), called The Duck Ball. This one’s really special: As he throws, he lets the ball roll from his fingers into a push while screaming, “Duck!” It’s a terrible, useless pitch, but a blast to wrestle with.
Keep in mind, this is 100-percent in fun. I never scream at him; pressure him; criticize him. I have zero expectations of him becoming the next Jim Kern or Bruce Berenyi (random names on purpose). I just want to have fun with him, and—perhaps—help him hang in Little League. That’s it, that’s all.
Oh, forgot: So he had his first game today. Walked in his first at-bat, stole a base (an enormous thrill), scored a run. Next time up, struck out swinging and cried. We talked, I gave him the ol’ cliched reminder (“Everyone strikes out … you have to find a way to handle down moments … etc”). Then he pitched an inning. Three hitters, three strikeouts.